IRL news upstages Kanaan

Engine deal, Japan race leave `rookie' in shade

Auto Racing

May 24, 2002|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS - Tony Kanaan, a little insulted by being called a rookie, given that he has raced on ovals elsewhere for seven years, was the fastest car on the final day of practice for the 86th Indianapolis 500.

"I wasn't looking for a fast lap," said Kanaan, a three-year CART veteran who will be running in his first Indy 500. "I was more concerned about making changes to the car and finding out how it will handle in traffic."

Kanaan's Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing G Force/Chevrolet will start in fifth place in the race that is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. EDT Sunday. Yesterday, it ruled the track with a lap of 225.752 mph.

All 33 cars got through the day without incident, with the big news of the afternoon coming from off the track with announcements that Honda Performance Development, Inc., will build an engine for the Indy Racing League next season and that the IRL will hold its first race on a foreign oval next year.

Robert Clarke, general manager of Honda Performance Development, Inc., and IRL president and CEO Tony George announced American Honda, partnering with Ilmor Engineering, Inc, a U.S. company based in Plymouth, Mich., will design, develop and produce the Honda Indy V8 engine for the IRL next season.

The announcement, which George called "one of the most significant in the series' history," brings to four the total number of engine producers for the IRL. Honda joins General Motors, Infiniti (Nissan) and Toyota, which announced plans to participate early last year.

"We're finally beginning to build a base that can help our teams," George said. "We have good teams in place to handle a fourth engine manufacturer."

At this point, Clarke said, Honda has no IRL teams, but that he was heading into the garages to begin the process of enticing teams to sign up with the new program.

While Honda's announcement was big, it wasn't the only stunning news of the afternoon. George was asked if Honda's signing on and his recent trip to Twin Ring Motegi, north of Tokyo, meant that a deal would soon be completed to schedule an IRL race at that distant oval.

"I would say nothing is imminent," George said.

An hour later, the IRL handed out a release announcing the league will race in Japan next year. The date will be announced later.

"Now that the Indy Racing League has a stable schedule in the United States, we are pleased to take racing based on the heritage of the Indianapolis 500 to Japan," George said in the statement. "It is especially fitting that our first international venue will be at Twin Ring Motegi, one of the finest ovals in the world."

Meanwhile, drivers here were mostly interested in their current cars and Sunday's race.

Pole-sitter Bruno Junqueira, in the Target Chip Ganassi Racing G Force/Chevrolet, was 10th fastest on the track with a lap of 224.140 mph, as his team simply went out to do a few runs with full fuel tanks.

"We made a few adjustments, the car felt comfortable and I'm getting excited for the race," Junqueira said. "It's an advantage starting from the pole because there won't be any traffic in front of me. Hopefully, there won't be any traffic in front of me for the whole race."

It was a tough day for last year's 500 winner, Helio Castroneves. His Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet suffered from "low idle" at the start of practice, forcing his team back to the garage to fix it, he said. And then, when they came back out, there was an issue with the oil sensor.

"So, once again we had to go back to the garage to work on the problem," Castroneves said. "In our final run, we weren't happy with the balance of the car. So, we didn't really get the chance for any solid practice time. But that's why Carburetion Day is so important. It gave us the chance to fix these last-minute problems. Hopefully, we run smoothly on Sunday."

It wasn't all bad news for Castroneves, though, because his team won the annual pit-crew competition. The crew took 8.555 seconds to change all four tires and complete a simulated fueling.

The 2001 IRL champion, Sam Hornish Jr., was second fastest at 225.279 in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet. He will start seventh.

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